Carnegie Mellon University
April 06, 2017

Carnegie Mellon University Junior Earns Goldwater Scholarship

By Emily Payne

Carnegie Mellon University Junior Earns Goldwater Scholarship

Christina Cabana, a junior chemistry major and Science and Humanities Scholar at Carnegie Mellon University, is the recipient of a 2017 Barry Goldwater Scholarship. Given by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, the award supports students interested in pursuing research careers in the fields of science, engineering and math.

Cabana is one of 240 students selected from an applicant pool of 1,286 students. The scholarship provides up to $7,500 per year for tuition, fees, books and room and board for up to two years.

When Cabana was first nominated for the scholarship as a sophomore, she could not think of a more perfect opportunity. 

“One of the things the Goldwater scholarship recognizes is your potential as a research scientist, which is something I’m very set on doing,” Cabana said. The fact that I was selected as someone who might actually be good at that and can succeed meant a lot to me. It confirmed that what I want to do and what I can do are actually aligned.”

Since she entered her first research lab in high school, Cabana knew it felt like home. Many years and a few research labs later, this has not changed one bit. Cabana plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemical biology or pharmacology and aspires to lead a research group in cancer pharmacology and teach at the university level. 

Working in Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Chemistry Marcel Bruchez’s lab, Cabana is currently researching genetically targeted photoablation, helping to create a fusion protein that will target specific cell lines using fluorescent imaging techniques. The protein should be able to find a specific cell type in a specific location — like a t-regulator cell near a cancerous tumor — and, when activated using light, kill the targeted cell.

Cabana also has studied the binding and kinetics of FG proteins at Rockefeller University in Professor Michael Rout’s lab and conducted research as an Amgen Scholar at Columbia University Medical College in the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. At Columbia, she studied the potential of disseminated tumor DNA quantification as a diagnostic tool to concretely predict prostate cancer prognosis in Professor Cory Abate-Shen’s lab.

“Christina was a clearly talented student with a strong passion for basic scientific research from the time she approached me to do research in her first year,” said Bruchez, who is also director of Carnegie Mellon’s Molecular Biosensor and Imaging Center. “She was able to turn very exciting summer research opportunities at Rockefeller University and Columbia University Medical School into new skills that she brought back to our lab at Carnegie Mellon, building up an independent set of skills and a unique project with her current photoablation work. 

Outside of the lab, Cabana is president of Carnegie Mellon University Soundbytes, a coed a capella group, philanthropy chair and Greek Sing chair for Delta Delta Delta sorority and a resident assistant. She furthers her passion for science by leading demonstrations at under-resourced Pittsburgh schools as a member of the outreach organization Future Leaders of Science; raising funds for St. Jude Children’s Hospital; and co-writing and directing this year’s chemistry murder mystery musical.

Cabana first heard of the scholarship from Carnegie Mellon’s Fellowships and Scholarships Office after being nominated by a faculty committee to apply as a sophomore. This is her second year applying, and she is grateful that her dedication to research and academia resonated with the scholarship committee.

Stephanie Wallach, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education, is not surprised that Cabana’s excellent work led to her winning this scholarship.

“Christina is a passionate and first-rate researcher, an exemplary citizen of Carnegie Mellon and a true powerhouse who is poised to make major contributions to cancer pharmacology research, and we are excited to follow her promising career,” she said.

Two additional MCS students, biological sciences major Erin Sipple and physics major Riley Xu, were named as honorable mentions for this year’s Goldwater Scholarships.